Curves Ahead: Meet the Kenyan Plus Size fashion hub

Six. That’s the entire plus-size model representation at the recently concluded Fall 2016 Fashion Weeks in London, Paris, Milan and New York City combined.  Despite the drop in plus-size models at the Mecca of Fashion Shows, the fight for inclusion hasn’t slowed down. There’s a definite increase in media coverage of the plus-size model discrimination; just a few days ago Facebook had to apologise for banning an ‘undesirable’ advert of plus-size model Tess Holliday. We’re also seeing more fashion campaigns and agencies who are pushing past the fashion mould and taking on the curves. But it isn’t just happening in the international arena. Locally we have Plus Fabulosity; A company that is striving to challenge the norms of beauty and promote inclusion in Kenyan fashion.

Faithjully Malala on her crowning at the premiere pageant event, MPSK 2015 [Image: courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
Faithjully Malala on her crowning at the premiere pageant event, MPSK 2015 [Image: courtesy of Plus Fabulosity / Darkroom]
CEO and Founder, Francisca M. Nyamu, was inspired to start Plus Fabulosity by her crowning as University of Nairobi’s Miss Malaika Park-lands 2011-2012. Despite her coronation, there was still an evident lack of jobs for curvaceous models. However, with her family’s knack for business savviness, she recognised the untapped gap in the market that needed to be filled. It’s through her efforts that Nairobi now has a purely plus-size oriented modelling agency, as well as, its premier Miss Plus Size Beauty pageant that crowned Faithjully Malala in 2015. But it goes further than that; Nyamu’s vision doesn’t only cater for the economic aspects of their commercial, catwalk, editorial and photographic models, but also for the emotional wellbeing. Plus Fabulosity, in conjunction with Black Perl, created the body image and confidence campaign known as #ACurveIs. The initiative featured local celebrities such as Mark Masai, Linda Nyangweso, Victoria Rubadiri and Naomi Nganga, Kalekye mumo share their views and or experiences of being plus-size. She also aims to create a portal for self-love and acceptance as well as discourage bulling of plus size women. We talked to Nyamu to find out more about her efforts to promote the plus-size models.

Francisca Nyamu [Image: courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
Francisca Nyamu [Image: courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
How did you decide on the name Plus Fabulosity?

I couldn’t imagine my future life being anything short of fabulous and when I started my business, I wanted its name to remind me of that. So I married the words “Fabulous” and “Plus” having envisioned a plus size community that was fabulous in all areas of life; hence Plus Fabulosity.

Why did you think it was important to represent plus-size models?

Being part of a minority has never been such a good experience. I wanted to see change in the modelling industry having been a plus size model for about a year. In order to be that change, I decided to start an entity that would cater exclusively for the plus size community.

Faithjully Malala, Miss Plus Size Kenya 2015 Queen [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
Faithjully Malala, Miss Plus Size Kenya 2015 Queen [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
What is considered plus size?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The answer is relative; the size varies country to country. In some, plus size starts at 12 while in others plus size starts at 14. In Kenya, and Africa as a whole, the plus size community forms quite a big percentage of the population. Our agency represents models from size 14.

What we have found out for the years we’ve been in business is that there is a grey area of models that fall between size 12 and 14. They are on neither side of the scale and it has been a challenge representing such models.

How can a model-hopeful be represented by Plus Fabulosity?

We have an annual registration every beginning of the year. Applicants submit photos of themselves (passport and full) and a brief bio about themselves and why they’d like to be represented by our agency. The models go through intensive training for a month, (every weekend) then proceed to do a series of photo shoots for their quality portfolios if they didn’t have any when applying. We like to have serious models joining the agency. Plus size modelling is not for the fainthearted, however, we currently represent 49 models (from size 14 to 28). Our youngest model is 17 years old while the eldest is 43 years old.

Vintage meets Curves feat. Sophie Waceke
Vintage meets Curves feat. Sophie Waceke [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
Who are your top plus size models? 

It’s important to mention that all our models are well trained. However, our top models are Agarther Gichanga, Faithjully Major, Sandra Joan, Wendy Njeru, Caroline Wanjiku, Emma Lamunu, Susan Cherono and Vivian Jebor. Generally, we operate like any other modelling agency only that we have to work twice as hard to ensure equal & maximum representation of ALL models signed under us. Some of the shows that our models have been featured in The Kenya Fashion Awards 2015; Nairobi Fashion Market 2015; Luo Festival 2015; Miss Plus Size Kenya 2015 among others. Our models also accompany us to press interviews i.e. TV & Radio interviews, newspapers and magazines as well as participate in CSR events such as charity collaborations and social media campaigns.

But Plus Fabulosity is more than just a modelling agency…

I envisioned an entity that would be a one-stop shop; roofing all plus size solutions under one house. A #ExclusivelyPlusSize magazine, exclusive plus size events and an exclusive plus size modelling agency. All things Plus Size.

Top Plus Fabulosity Model, Agarther Gichanga [image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity ]
Top Plus Fabulosity Model, Agarther Gichanga [image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity ]
Magazine you say?

The magazine was first released on 4th April 2016. It is a digital magazine available quarterly from our website (www.plusfabulosity.com/index.php/plus-fab-magazine). The next issue will be in July showcasing Kenya’s best plus size fashion and style; retailing at KShs. 300/= only.

Tell us a little bit about these events you host….

The Kenya Plus Size Fashion Weekend (KPSFW2016) is our premier shopping event for the plus size community happening in August. We hope to bridge the divide in the industry and to also give an unforgettable VIP experience to our guests. Ha! The venue is a surprise which will be revealed in due time. All event details are available on our website. Miss plus Size Kenya (MPSK 2016) is Kenya’s leading plus size pageant. The first edition was held last year on 31st October at Weston Hotel. This year’s will also be held in October. All event details will be put up on our website. This year the registration process will start a bit earlier than last year, so all aspiring queens should keep tabs on our social media platforms for any announcements.

Francisca M. Nyamu, CEO & Founder (Plus Fabulosity)
Francisca M. Nyamu, CEO & Founder (Plus Fabulosity) [Image: Plus Fabulosity / Darkroom]
What frustrations have you faced running this agency?

It’s hard to control social preference, we can’t force ourselves on clients. Getting equal opportunity like petite models is a bit farfetched for the agency at the moment as the reality on the ground is the complete opposite. A fraction of the society thinks that we promote obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. But we go the extra mile to sensitize our models that they need to have a fitness regimen that keeps them in shape and fit for the job.

Therefore, our approach has been to work towards changing the perception and stereotypes formed against plus-size models and women in general. The more opportunities accorded to plus size models, the brighter the future for plus size modelling in Kenya.

Do fashion designers or stylists look for plus size or has it been a challenge to get them work?

I think that times are definitely changing. We have few designers who have plus size collections. That’s why we came up with KPSFW so that we can rally as many designers to do plus size collections and showcase them in August. When it comes to plus-size model portrayal it depends on the clients; and Clients differ. Therefore the treatment and end results of adverts, for instance, also differ from client to client. At the end of the day, the client’s product or service comes first.

 MPSK 2nd Runner Up, Wendy Njeru [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
MPSK 2nd Runner Up, Wendy Njeru [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity/ Darkroom]
 Why do you think that we don’t see diversity in fashion in Kenya?

I think lack of diversity is due to the level of exposure we have as a fraternity. We are coached into thinking that an ideal model is just the petite model; forgetting that there is a plus size community that ought to be represented by plus size models. There is a big gap in the industry for male plus size models too. Our agency hasn’t signed any yet, can’t quite give a commentary on how it’s faring.

But times have changed; there is a global revolution to have inclusion of plus size models in the fashion industry. The more predisposed we are to the changing times and standards, the easier and faster in will be to have a reflection of diversity in the industry.

 Plus Fab model, Emmah Lamunu [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]
Plus Fab model, Emmah Lamunu [Image: Courtesy of Plus Fabulosity]

With the developments both here and abroad, the world of fashion seems to be shifting, albeit slowly, to a more democratic view. With companies such as Plus Fabulosity, there definitely more representation platforms and inclusivity of the everyday woman’s body. However there’s still room to grow and with time we expect to see a shift in media representation; where models won’t be segregated by size or used as catchy news headlines because they’re not considered the norm in high fashion.

 

 

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